Many teachers struggle with maintaining a healthy work-life balance. I know I do. While it’s true that the majority of other jobs lend themselves to some work outside the 9-5 schedule, the life of a teacher is just different. There are a few big reasons why teaching so drastically impacts the work-life balance for educators. First of all, we’re dealing with the lives of children and young adults. Even when things are going well and we’re making good progress in our classrooms, we’re always thinking about those kids! Did that student really understand the lesson? Is this student making enough progress in reading? Is that student eating breakfast? The questions go on.
Also, there is always, always more work that can be done. No matter how many emails we read, another one pops up. The list of papers to grade almost never ends. And even when you have lessons planned perfectly for the week, there are always new ideas that come up.
Here are five simple ways to help maintain a good work-life balance in our world of education:
1. Leave the e-mails at work. Make a general rule that you won’t answer emails from home. That might mean you need to come in early or stay 20-30 minutes late each day, but that’s okay. It will make a huge difference in how much time you spend working each night. Another extra benefit is that it will reduce stress. We’ve all gotten that “hair on fire” emergency email from a parent at 8pm and have the need to head to the computer and write back right away. It would have been more beneficial to never have seen the email until the next morning. The truth is that it’s not an emergency and yes, the emails can truly wait.
2. Reduce your grading. There are a few ways you can accomplish less grading in your classroom. One way is to grade homework assignments for completion, rather than accuracy. Go around the room and check off who has the homework. Then, you can go ahead and review the homework as you wish. It becomes one less pack to take home. Another simple strategy is for students to grade their own papers. This also allows students to see their own mistakes as they go. Rubrics are also very helpful with reducing grading, because they make the grading process very clear. Students can even grade their own work before you see it and “double check” their grading.
3. Make dinner time sacred. Whether you have two or five in your family, dinner time should be something that is shared with the family. Make a general rule that work goes away once dinner hits the table. Let this be a relaxing and happy family time to chat about the day and what is going on in the world.
4. Find time for yourself. Schedule things you love doing into your week, so that they become a habit that you just can’t break. Whether it is daily reading, Zumba twice a week, or a weekly night out at a restaurant, make sure you incorporate such hobbies and activities into your everyday routine. It’s extremely beneficial to have something awesome to look forward to. Whatever you choose to do is also most likely going to reduce your stress levels, too. Even more, once you schedule these activities into your day or week, it really forces you to leave the work behind.
5. Encourage a family member to keep you in check. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in how much you are over-dedicating yourself to school/work. Talk to someone close to you about it, whether it is your spouse, best friend, brother, or mother. For me, this person is always my fiance. He can easily tell when I’m stressed with work and need a break, even when I am sometimes absolutely blind to it. Once you open up to someone, you can ask them to give you a polite hint when they think you are spending too much time at work or if you might need to put the computer away.
The work-life balance is always a struggle for teachers. We are tossed in many directions at once and we truly want to accomplish it all- that’s just our nature! It truly is in our best interest (and our students’ best interest!) to be well-rested, fresh, and ready-to-go for our students every single day. It’s okay if your work-life balance isn’t perfect yet, but let it always be something you’re striving towards.